Wretchedly funny: A review of 4 Adverbs by Daniel Handler
"I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs."
-Stephen King, On Writing
"Love is hell."
"Why do supposedly sensible people fall in love with the ones who are so clearly going to make them miserable, and why, when these people try to answer this question, do they invariably use the phrase my mother?"
I am not thirteen. I have never read a Lemony Snicket novel. I imagine that if I were thirteen, I would be spending all night devouring Lemony Snicket novels and spending all day discussing Lemony Snicket and his novels at fan club meetings and parties. But I am not thirteen.
I am thirty seven and as a thirty-seven-year-old, I often wonder--esoterically speaking--just what is the magic behind this Lemony Snicket character? Last night I found out. The magic is Daniel Handler.
Daniel Handler, known as the "legal, literary, and social representative of Lemony Snicket" also writes books geared for adults. Adults who no longer should be considering that four letter word "love" and its consequences. Adults that spend their nights reading novels and their days blogging about them. Adults who would be jumping up and down right now if only their knees would let them.
Love. Misery. Humor. Loss. The connections between these ideas are explored by Daniel Handler in his upcoming novel Adverbs. Word for Word Performing Arts Company in conjunction with The Z Space Studio has put together a wonderful performance featuring excerpts from this work titled 4 Adverbs. The four pieces: "Arguably," "Particularly," "Naturally," and "Wrongly" explore misery, humor, money, and the reasons why love is hell. Honestly, I enjoyed the performance immensely.
In Arguably, the audience is introduced to Helena, a British transplant in New York, whose first novel Glee Club has not "caught fire," according to her editor at St. Martins Press. We see her alternating between drowning her sorrows in a bottle of cheap red wine and pitching her editor her new book idea that she has written on two index cards when her husband David urges her to get practical and take a job in San Francisco. Really, where is the love?
Particulary, the second excerpt, gives us the life of the couple after they move to San Francisco. Helena now is working at the school where David's ex-girlfriend Andrea works. Andrea is the one who got Helena the job and--according to David--her intent is purely one of kindness. But watching Andrea, a skinny, terse, unhappy woman, be so unkind to Helena, we have to wonder. And it is because Andrea is so unlikable that we are only slightly surprised when Helena snoops in her purse and takes the wad of cash she finds inside. In both Arguably and Particularly, the themes of money and the role of money in relationships is explored in funny and stark yet humorous ways. We understand and agree that love and death are natural, but in the meantime we have the problem of money to solve.
Naturally, the third excerpt, takes us away from the stale tale of Helena, her word weary husband, and his snit of an ex and into the land of the dead. There we meet Hank Hayride, who is newly dead and having an awkward first couple of moments "on the job." Things start looking up when he runs into Eddie. She's an old high school crush and they pick up where they actually never left off, since she has no memory of him from high school. The relationship starts out tentative but quickly swells then peaks before crashing and burning before our eyes in a breakup that could only take place at such an impersonal place as the corner greasy spoon. At the end we are left wondering if Hank really was dead or if he only was dead to Eddie because she had no interest in giving him life. The story line brings the exploration of love and money to the crossroads of loss and breakup. Whether they are dead or just dead to us, old flames can haunt for eternity.
Wrongly, the fourth excerpt, explores the world of two individuals who may never have had a relationship or whose relationship was present only in memory. This excerpt brings us the lives of two people are in graduate school and who meet at a library orientation. Steven is a disgruntled male going nowhere but doing so with a cigarette and an attitude. Allison is a woman with an untold story weighing on her conscience and she needs somebody to tell her how to get where she is going. For a brief journey through time, Allison thinks that Steven might be going to the same place she is: South San Francisco. For a brief and believable few moments, we witness her making poor relationship decisions but then we heave a collective sigh of relief as things change. In the end we see the opening of a door and we understand how destiny has taken Allison her separate way. Love might be somewhere for Steven and for Allison as individuals, but it is not here for them as a couple.
Word for word takes literary works and replays them--well--word for word. They include the "he said" and the "she said" and all narration present in the original text. It was difficult to comprehend at first, but I quickly realized that it is a truly inspired way to experience the written word. Because Handler's book is yet to be released, seeing the words acted out on stage now was a true treat for a bibliophile like myself. In the future, I would love to compare how I read the book to how the directors (Sheila Balter and Mei Ann Teo) of Word for Word read--and then presented--the book. Would there be a difference?
The entire cast of 4 Adverbs did a commendable job. The stage direction, choreography, blocking, and acting by the Word for Word company was amazing. They are professionals who take their work seriously. I was impressed and I urge those of you who live in the Bay Area to check out this company and this performance. Handler's words are dry, dark, and witty. His exploration of the themes of love, money, and happiness under the umbrella of first the New York publishing and then the San Francisco grad school scene are a joy to experience in a theatrical performance as intimate and warm as this one. And I say that knowingly.
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